Each of these two teams is at the top of their division (the Rays are tied with Baltimore, which is shocking), while the Rangers one up the Rays by holding the best record in baseball at 15-4, and already have a +55 run differential. The Rangers look like the class of baseball right now, while the Rays….are actually struggling a little bit, but still taking advantage of a division that hasn’t lived up to its usual endless hype.
Tonight’s game one will feature James Shields going for the Rays against Matt Harrison of the Rangers. Both pitchers are undefeated this season at 3-0, but Harrison has an ERA a run lower than Shields (1.67 for Harrison, 2.76 for Shields). Each pitcher has allowed just one homer this season, while Shields has both walked and struck out more hitters than Harrison. Looking at their competition, it’s largely equal. Both pitchers have faced the Tigers and Twins, while Shields has faced tough competition against the Red Sox and Yankees. Harrison has made one fewer start, and it came against the White Sox.
Game two looks a little lopsided for the Rangers, as they’ll start Colby Lewis and his 24:1 strikeout to walk ratio against Jeff Niemann, who hasn’t finished the sixth inning in any of his three starts this season. Lewis’s ERA is half that of Niemann’s, but Niemann has been largely a model of mediocrity this year: two or three runs allowed in each of his starts, one or two walks, and five or six strikeouts. It’s actually kind of boring. Lewis is a lot more dynamic, going at least six innings in all of his starts, but he’s also allowed a homer in three of those four starts.
Game three on the other hand, seems to be in favor of the Rays. They’ll roll with David Price on the hill, but Price hasn’t been that great this year, walking ten and striking out 17 in 24 innings. However, in his last start, he threw a complete game shutout against the struggling Angels. Holland got hammered in his last start, allowing seven runs to the Yankees in six innings, but had quality starts in his prior three starts. Price is the better pitcher overall, but aside from his last start, has underperformed in comparison to Holland.
The Rays offense is how it usually is: not great, but above average. They have four players that are completely raking this year in Matt Joyce (1.038 OPS), Evan Longoria (.956), Carlos Pena (.944), and Luke Scott (.933). That foursome more than makes up for the mediocrity so far of Ben Zobrist, BJ Upton, Sean Rodriguez, Jeff Keppinger, and their multi-headed monster behind the plate. The Rays are a relatively well-balanced team, homering 25 times and stealing 12 bases. Defensively, they’re great (as usual), ranking second in the majors with a cumulative +19 DRS, headed by Sean Rodriguez, a +7 combined between second and short.
The Rangers on the other hand, is full of mashers. Josh Hamilton is reliving his MVP season of 2010 (eight homers, 1.170 OPS), and Mike Napoli is setting himself up for a huge payday this offseason (seven homers, .997 OPS). Ian Kinsler continues to rake like he usually does with a 1.016 OPS and five homers, though he’s only stolen two bases. The only real below average starters they have are defensive whiz Elvis Andrus and first baseman Mitch Moreland, who looks like a lost cause after he struggled last year as well. Texas is another balanced team, but they trend more towards the power side of the game, with 31 homers and 13 stolen bases. Like the Rays, Texas is a good defensive club, logging a +9 DRS.
This is going to be a great series in a rematch of the 2011 ALDS series between these two teams. The Rays catch a break by missing Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz, but there really isn’t an offday in this Texas rotation.
The pick: I think the Rays win game one, while Texas takes the final two games. I’m going with the Rays in game one due to Shields’ wealth of experience and ability to eat innings overall, while I think Texas takes the final two games due to the mediocrity of Niemann and the overall struggles of Price aside from his last start.